Posts Tagged ‘Visva Bharati


New Works by K.G. Subramanyan

150205 KG Subramanyan Exhibition

150208 Kala Bhavan2Black and White Mural, Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan, November–December 2009

They are very few social events in Santiniketan. K.G. Subramanyan’s 91st birthday certainly is and called for a special exhibition of his most recent works at Kala Bhavan’s Nandan Art Gallery. Not only he is one of the most renown alumni of the university created by Rabindranath Tagore, but he owned the title of Professor Emeritus and dedicated 25 years of his life guiding Visva Bharati’s aspiring young artists. Sharing his time between Gujarat’s cultural capital, Baroda, and Santiniketan, each one of his visits is duly celebrated.

150205 KG Subramanyan Expo3It is no wonder that Santiniketan’s intelligentsia still welcome Subramanyan with such devotion. This pioneer of indian modern art blurred the barrier between art and crafts, between artists and artisans.

150208 KG Subramanyan Expo6

150205 KG Subramanyan Interview1“I am a restless soul”

He was always keen to promote ancient skills and crafts which had not been destroyed entirely by industry and mass production. Toy-making, pottery, illustration & design, terra-cotta sculpture, literature, he never confined himself to one media.

150208 KG Subramanyan Expo7

150205 KG Subramanyan Interview“Art is something I have to do; my reason for being.”

150208 KG Subramanyan Expo2Born in South India in 1924 and involved, in the early stages of India’s fight for independence along with Gandhiji’s peaceful soldiers, he could not enroll an art college before 1944 when Nandalan Bose, painter and principal of Kala Bhavan, summoned him to join Visva-Bharati.

150208 KG Subramanyan Collage“KG Subramanyan is one artist who has moved to assimilate the traditional and the modern in a twentieth century Indian context. His work appropriates elements of Indian visual tradition, as well as popular and classical elements and reinterprets them through modernist forms and techniques. His works inherit global visual culture, containing elements of Hindu iconography, Euro-American modernism and classical fresco painting. Subramanyan characterises a key section of the broader Indian modernist movement, which seeks to redefine tradition as a living, changing language. This essay argues that the interaction of tradition and modernity in India is indicative of a broader reality: that tradition is a fluid, living form.”

Tradition and the Art of Modern India, Kieran Browne, ANU Press, 2014

150205 KG Subramanyan Expo6If Subramanyan learned from his fellows Nandalal Bose, Ram Kinkar Baij or Benode Bihari Mukherjee, his art was not limited to these indian precursors. The influence of Picasso, Henri Matisse and the formalists are obvious even though absorbed, digested and mingled with indian ancestral tradition.

150208 KG Subramanyan Expo4“His experiments with interpenetration of Hindu iconography and the assimilation of popular, modern, classical and indigenous traditions have been vital to the revival of Indian visual culture. In continuing the work of Tagore and Bose, Subramanyan has enlivened Indian indigenous tradition and reinvented it for present purposes.”

Tradition and the Art of Modern India, Kieran Browne, ANU Press, 2014

150205 KG Subramanyan Expo7“The fulfillment of a modern Indian artist’s wish to be part of a living tradition, i.e. to be individual and innovative, without being an outsider in his own culture, will not come of itself, it calls for concerted effort.”

K. G. Subramanyan

L1010468However, even in presence of such a “giant” of indian modern art history, the media coverage focuses on those few “white faces” in the room…

150205 Ranjani Ramachandran Concert2And because such talent and longevity calls for celebration, the night ended with young singer Ranjani Ramachandran’s homage to the artist.


শিল্প সদন – শ্রীনিকেতন (Silpa Sadana – Sriniketan)

Beginning of the 20’s, Patha Bhawan – the school founded by Rabindranath Tagore – had flourished, the Poet had been honoured with a Nobel Prize and then – and only then – the Indian Government had started to show some interest in him and his work in Santiniketan.


As Tagore The Zamidar – the “landlord” – visited the surrounding villages to collect the annual rent, the socially-concerned-Thinker couldn’t help to notice that “for some reason, (they) appeared to be in a state of steady decline”. There was “no joy, no food, no health, no idea of the importance of their own initiative and no cooperation among them” as he confided to the English agricultural scientist Leonard Elmhirst, soon to become the first principal of the Institute of Rural Reconstruction.


In 1922, délaissant the intellectual space he had created, he founded Palli Samgathana Vibhaga in Sriniketan – the “abode of welfare” – second campus of Visva Bharati.



“Modern education (…) has not reached the farmer, the oil grinder nor the potter. If ever a truly Indian university is established it must from the very beginning implement India’s own knowledge of economics, agriculture, health, medicine and of all other everyday science from the surrounding villages. This school must practise agriculture, dairying and weaving using the best modern methods… I have proposed to call this school Visva Bharati

Adresses by Tagore, Visva Bharati, Santiniketan, 1963



Silpa Bhavana had already started training in Art & Craft. Sriniketan took over the work and made compulsory for its students to learn a trade: pottery, woodcarving, paper making, weaving. The objective was to bring back life to the villages and help them to solve their own problems. “…whenever the middle class babus intend to do something for the rural people, they show their contempt for them”. It aimed at combining work with joy organizing picnics, excursions, games, music, theatrical performances and socio-religious festivals.




A visit to Silpa Sadan will probably bring you front of the Emporium. Do not let the desuète and rather gloomy atmosphere drive you away! Beyond the rusty furniture, the dusty floor and non-so-welcoming faces, behind those opaque window glasses, inside those old-fashion wooden armoires, you will find the finest cotton cloth. The design are classic, the colours scarce but the weaving – work of students and some trained craftsmen for the final touch – is fine and authentic.





Your curious instinct might lead you to the corridor at the back of the emporium and, reaching the weaving workshop, you’ll feel you’ve been time-travelling. Unlike Kala Bhavan – the Institute of Fine Arts -, here it seems that everything remained unchanged since Tagore’s years. Superbes wooden looms for hand made cloth, pure off-white cotton yarns, marigold-orange bobbins, deep-blue threads… An antique scenery sublimated by a few rays of the outside spring light.





In 2007, Vishal Bhand joined the department and started the Renaissance of Silpa Sadan. This year was created the first Bachelor course of Design – a première in Santiniketan – aiming not only at developing innovating designers but also at giving them the will and skill to share their designs and savoir-faire with local artisans. Vishal also obtained a fund in order to build a new campus, adapted to the present needs of students and production. We can only hope that this suranné but exquisite Tagorean mood will remain floating in Sriniketan’s air.





“Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941)”, Unesco: International Bureau of Education, 1999


কলা ভবন (Sunday evening in Kala Bhavan)

The dark of a sunday evening. A few rays of lights from ici et là, some art students are still working on their canvas.


* Where the world makes a home in a single nest


I follow the sound of tablas and reach the cafeteria area, mythic meeting spot of Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati’s Institute of Fine Arts.



Black silhouettes are devotedly watching a temporary stage, lulled by the sound of children’s singing. Like Wonderful land’s Cheshire cats, students are comfortably sitting on the centenary Sal tree’s branches. Aah – Sa – Pa… The Devanagari Alphabet balancing in the soft Bengali breeze.



Debashish, music composer, had this idea a few years back. Put the Nepalese’ alphabet into music to be sung by school-boys and girls. After 5 years of training, the kids – as the project – have grown and became lovely and amazingly professional singers.




For this show, Santiniketan based musicians accompanied them: a guitarist from Darjeeling, an esraj player from France, a Baul of Bengal… They interpreted a quite heterogeneous repertoire, from Ka – Kha – Ga – Gha song to the Nepalese version of Lennon’s Imagine and even some R&B.




This project is to be spread among schools in West Bengal. Art & education.




পৌষ মেলা (poush mela)

Poush Mela (পৌষ মেলা), annual festival mixing folk performances, handicraft stalls, odorous and greasy food, unbridled  and rusty fun fair, is held on the Bengali month of Poush (23-25 December 2010), traditionally marking the harvest season. Thousand of stalls – selling hand made jute, silk, wool, cane, wood, paper as well as synthetic fabrics, kitchen supplies, washing machines and… laptops – pop up like wild mushrooms and a 10 000 tourists’ horde pours into our « used to be quiet » streets.

Although every year the environment cell of the Visva Bharati University try to increase the environmental awareness and limit the use of plastic, it tends to fall on death ears. After Mela, they sweep the ground and burn the non-so-eco-friendly rubbish that our éphemère visitors leave behind, snobbing those massive but so few concrete trash bins. This year, around 60 local boyscout were “offered” in order to display the no-plastic campaign and keep the ground free of the toxic trash… Don’t know if the message was heard, I’ve stepped on a lot of crap… still, it was a first (crispy) step.